Scouting with Lorne Frey
When asked what makes a good scout, Kelowna Rockets assistant general manager/director of player personnel Lorne Frey jokes that his daughter was a better scout than him at the tender age of 11.
Frey has been around the Rockets franchise since day one, joining the team in Tacoma back in 1991. As the club’s director of player personnel, he directs the Rockets scouting staff.
The way scouting is done has changed drastically over the years, with skill rapidly improving.
“I think basically now, everybody for the most part skates so well and a lot of guys have good skill. The skating is phenomenal at the bantam age, these guys are better skaters at 15 than I was at 25, and the pace is unreal.
“I think the biggest thing right now is the ability to think the game, and I think it’s becoming a bit of a lost art because of the structure that a lot of kids are playing under. They sometimes get into overload thinking about where they have to be or what they have to do.”
While looking for potential prospects, Frey says that scouts are watching to see how a player thinks.
“You’re watching them to see how they anticipate where the puck goes, in some cases you can see where kids seem to know where to go and get open. Those are the guys that you’re looking for, they can think the game a step or two ahead of other guys.”
It has become easier for scouts to watch several players in a short period of time thanks to the development of leagues across the prairies.
“Our scouts go to all of the major tournaments and some of the minor ones as well. It’s set up really good now, every province has a major bantam league or academies. The majority of players that we draft are within those programs, it makes it easier for the scouts because a lot of them have showcases for us to attend and watch these guys.
“You can see a lot of the players nowadays compared to back then. I don’t think there are too many diamonds in the rough anymore, you can still find them, but it’s become harder because the players and the leagues have become so condensed. They’re so well scouted, every team in the league does a great job scouting. You’ll still get lucky once in a while, a player you take in a late-round or listed turns out to be a better player than the one you took earlier on.”
Speaking of diamonds in the rough, we asked Frey how he found Jamie Benn, one of the many he has found over the years.
“Jamie was about 5’6 or 5’7 as a bantam but a really good player, I invited him to camp as an undrafted player but he didn’t come. A couple of seasons later, about a month into the year, I’m scrolling through the stats of other leagues and I see Jamie is playing Junior B with Peninsula and leading the league in scoring. I put him on our list that day and called our scout down on the island, I think it was a Tuesday and by Thursday he was there to watch him. I called him to ask how he looked, he told me that he was about six feet tall now. I went down there to see, he had grown and was unreal. I told him after the game he was going to be in the National Hockey League by the time he was 19 or 20.
“We had a hard time getting him though, he was quite a baseball player and was thinking of going to school to play ball. The season before he came to us he played Junior A with the Victoria Grizzlies, he had another great year, played with his brother and Tyler Bozak. The Dallas Stars drafted him that summer, he played two games with the Grizzlies and then decided to come and play for Kelowna.”
The Western Hockey League draft differs from the way the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junor Hockey League work. In the WHL, players are drafted at 15, they can play in five games with the team that drafts them until their midget team’s season has ended.
In the OHL and QJMHL kids are drafted at 16, first-round picks normally play for the team that drafts them that fall.
“I like our draft the way it is, having a 15-year-old draft gives you a year to recruit that player for your team.
“If you were to compare draft years between the two years the majority of players would stay the same, the positions might move around a bit. I think the majority of the best players at 15 are still going to be the best players at 16.”
You can see which next group of prospects Frey and his scouting staff select at the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft online on Wednesday, April 22 at whl.ca/draft.